The Ethiopian Apartheid Policy on Oromo at Irreecha Festival

(Oromocentre, Melbourne, 07 October 2012) On Sunday, September 30, 2012, several million Oromos gathered at Bushoftu’s Hora Arsaddii in Central Oromia, southeast of Finfinne to celebrate Irrecha, a national “Thanksgiving” holiday. Of the millions, Ethiopian-cum-Tigire security forces arrested 150 to200 Oromo persons of all ages and gender and jailed them in Mai’ikelawi (a torture prison in Finfinne) and at other unknown places. The violent mass arrests were accompanied by dehumanizing activities by the “Ethiopian” army and police. Women, girls and men were stripped naked in public of cultural costumes at gunpoint.

The mass arrests and harassments are part of the apartheid policy Ethiopian regimes have followed towards the Oromo people. Apartheid here stands for a system of legal ethno-racial  segregation enforced by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF) since 1991. The EPRDF was created to protect the interests of Tigreans and to violate the interests of members of other nationalities such as the Oromo.

At Irreecha,  Ethiopian security forces interpreted Oromo cultural outfits as “symbols of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)” or symbols of “the enemy.” It is wildly crazy that the culture of a whole group of people is equated to OLF to justify attacks.
A lot has been reported on the phenomenon. I am not here to repeat the news, but to put it in perspective. The questions that is rarely asked about recurring yearly crackdown against Oromos based on their identity–Oromo ethnicity, religion, culture, language and clothing articles– is whether these brutal actions are just accidents of human rights violations or whether they are the continuation of Ethiopian apartheid policy against Oromo bodies, minds and cultures.The fact that mass arrests repeatedly occur during Oromo holidays, but do not occur at all during Habesha holidays such as Meskel and Timket, show the current Ethiopian regime, as past ones, follows an apartheid policy against the Oromo people in all spheres of life, including areas of religion, culture, economy and the right to exist.

There were not any collective or individual arrests carried out against members of the ruling ethno-national groups from the Tigire and Amahara during the Habesha new year, and Meskel celebrations just prior to the Oromo’s Irreecha. Abyssinians freely exercise their collective festivals and celebrations because they own the state.

The crackdown at Irreechaa 2012 in Oromia is not a just a mere government interference with Oromian national events, but it is a systematic apartheid policy. Stripping Oromo women and girls naked in public, sending several hundreds to jail , beating festival-goers with batons, infiltrating the holy site at Arsaddii and policing what kinds of songs the youth sang are premeditated actions that were centrally planned by Ethiopia’s notorious National Security and Intel Service (NSIS).

The so-called federal police, conventional troops and Oromia Police were deployed in tens of thousands to terrorize Oromo unarmed civilians. Does such a discrimination happen to Tigreans or Amara when they celebrate their holidays in Finfinne (right in the heart of Oromia) or Mekele? Not at all. They celebrate in complete joy, while Oromos attempt to have just one happy holiday is violently disrupted. Habesha are safe to do whatever they want because they control the armed forces. There is no such a thing as Oromia police or troops–all of the troops and security forces belong to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the engine of which is the Tigire People’s Liberation Front.

Collective arrests and killings of Oromos have been going on for the last 21 years in Ethiopia. Nothing has changed since Meles Zenawi died and the figurehead Hailemariam Desalegn replaced him. What does it mean when on single day 150-200 purely members of the Oromo nationality are arrested and sent to Ethiopia’s most notorious torture prison, where all kinds of primitive physical punishments are exacted upon them and they are let to waste away like they are nothing? It means apartheid. It means racist discrimination based on ethnicity.

The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa lists the names and pictures of 50 Oromos, mostly high-school teenagers and college-age students. Alemitu Lemi Jabessa, 19, and Ayantu Mohammed Mumme, 22, were two females among the arrested. These two young girls are high school students from West Shawa and East Hararge, central and eastern Oromia respectively. They came to be happy with their people, but they ended up being thrown to a torture prison. As many other Irreecha pilgrims did, they traveled long distances to get to the holy site in Bushoftu. There they were met by brute apartheid forces who did not like decorated Oromo costumes they were wearing. They hated the  ethnic identity of these girls and the Oromian national self-confidence they represented .   Alemitu and Ayantu are likely to be tortured and subjected to other forms of physical and emotional assaults in prison.

It is well known that Ethiopian troops and police deliberately torment and physically abuse women wherever they go. Wayyaanee troops and police are just a bunch of crude rapists and murderers. Will they abuse Tigrean females who are 19 and 22? NO! They abuse Oromos since they view them as “members of the enemy ethnic group”. The occupying forces are notorious for using any form of abuses as weapon of continued segregation and collective humiliation.

The goal of Ethiopia’s apartheid policy is to humiliate and traumatize as many Oromos as they can so that Oromos abandon their quest for freedom, culture and traditional religion, Waaqeffannaa. The goal is to force Oromos to speak Amaharic or Tigrigna, to make the Oromo abandon theirs and adopt Habesha cultures and religions. The goal is also to rid Oromia off its youngest and brightest future leaders. They aim to pave the way for Habeshas to extract the resources of Oromia exclusively for themselves.

An Amnesty International’s record shows that just a year ago over 100 Oromo opposition leaders and activists were hunted down and sent to Ethiopia’s torture prison en masse. No one Tigrean was in that. This shows apartheid policy is just continuing in Oromia. Then apartheid policy was enforced  under Meles Zenaw. Now a year later, it is being enforced under Hailemariam Desalegn, where 200 Oromos have been arrested from all over Oromia for a mere reason of gathering to celebrate their national holiday, Irreecha.

Although Ethiopia has over 86 ethnonational groups, no group else has been subjected to the level of collective state-sponsored violence (terrorism) as Oromos have been in Ethiopia. The privileged Habesha groups enjoy unparalleled protection from the Ethiopian government because of just satisfying the birth criterion of being co-ethnics with ruling elites.

Apartheid policies against the Oromo in Ethiopia are conducted systematically. Oromos are denied the right to assembly on their public holidays such as Irreecha. Oromos are denied economic, social and cultural rights in violation of major international human rights conventions and treaties needless to mention here. Even clothes they wear and the language they speak get Oromos in trouble. Despite their numerical majority, Oromos have been reduced to a minority status in the national government and in the national economy of the empire.

In contrast, Tigreans who are numerical minority are economic and power-majority in Ethiopia today. Oromos are exploited! They are arrested in large numbers frequently. We don’t see the same things happen to members of the ethnic Tigire or Amahara groups from the north. We must ask ourselves “why not”? If a regime is protecting its own kind and attacks others over differences, that is a good sign of a racist segregation policy. Arresting, beating and transporting Oromos to torture prisons in several hundreds is just a normalized behavior among the Ethiopian-cum-Tigrean security forces. When reported about, Oromos are made into mere numbers. The numbers mask that all these people who have been arrested and jailed are somebodies’ sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, cousins, nieces and so on and the pain is so great in every home!

As for Oromos in OPDO who are complicit in enforcing apartheid policies on behalf of Tigrean elites, history will not forgive you. Traumatizing Oromos will only make them want their own state–Oromia, where they shall be fully protected when they succeed in creating the independent Democratic Repulic Oromia. To want autonomy within the current system is just too soft and too dangerous for our people.  Who would want to stay in an empire that targets Oromos as a collectivity for cultural and physical destruction? What will be the answers of some Diaspora-based Ethiopianist Oromo sellouts about this humiliating mass arrests? Do you still want to be part of the Ethiopian empire and help it in subjugating Oromos just to save your clan or sub-regional identity and loyalty to narrow Godina  groups? Lest you forget harma-muraa and harka-muraa just to  fill up your tummy!

For those Qeerroo youth who took every risk and broke the news of the mass arrests, you are serving your nation and you must be proud. Keep up the good work. Oromia shall be free through your blood and sweat!  Ibidda dinaan gama hundaan Oromiyaatti qabisiifame haga dhaamisinutti boqannaa hinqabinu!

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